small acts of kindness

Words and actions reflect your “personal policy”

A recent encounter with a stranger at a Tuesday Morning store in my neighborhood reminded me of how important it is to be mindful of how our words and actions can affect others.

We’re still practicing social distancing where I live, but retail stores are opening up again and I couldn’t wait to stop by one of my favorite stores.

A woman wearing a wide-brimmed straw hat, sunglasses, and a light blue face mask that covered her nose and mouth, waited by the door.

“Are they open?” I asked.

She checked her watch. “They open at 10, I think. We got about 10-minutes,” she said through her mask.

Talking amongst ourselves

That’s how I came to be standing on the sidewalk in the shadow of the building on a hazy Friday morning. A few minutes later another woman walked up, she had a black mask pulled down over her chin. 

Standing a safe distance from each other, we got to talking about the current situation–COVID, quarantine, social distancing–and how happy we were that stores were opening again. 

The woman in the straw hat said she had just gotten laid off from her job but had not had any success filing for unemployment. “I’m 68 years old,” she said, “but I still want to work. The president of my company said they planned to recall part of the workforce, but said if you’re over 65…you should just stay home.” 

Even though her former employer’s leadership may not have explicitly said or meant it, the message she heard, loud and clear, was:

  • You, over-65-year-old people, are the problem.
  • We don’t want you back.
  • Go home and stay there.
  • It would be better for everyone if you just disappear. 

Sounds harsh, doesn’t it?

It would be easy to explain the company policy away and say, “I’m sure that’s not what they meant.” Maybe even assume she was being oversensitive.

Maybe they did, maybe they didn’t.

But what struck me is how policy—public, corporate, even personal—sends messages beyond words. It’s through our actions, how we live and treat others, that speaks volumes about what we value. 

What I learned about her in our short conversation that morning was that this woman is active in her church, sings in the choir and has lots of church friends. The quarantine has cut her off from all that. She lives alone and is ready to get back to life and get back to a job she loved.

But now they don’t seem to want her back because she’s over 65 and they seem to think people over 65 should stay out of sight out of mind. 

That impromptu, casual, social-distanced, sidewalk conversation left an impression on me. 

That company president’s words made this woman feel unvalued and irrelevant. He probably didn’t intend to leave that impression, but that was her takeaway.

I felt really bad for her. She loved her job and didn’t want to leave it and now she felt a real sense of loss at yet another thing being taken away from her.

The virus hasn’t changed our need for community and relevance and value. If this whole thing has taught us anything it’s that we need human connection and community.

And especially now, when people are more physically isolated, people need to know that they matter.

You and I may not be able to do a lot to help the current situation, but small acts of kindness can go a long way at this time of social distancing.

Here are a few small things we can do to build connection and community during this time of isolation.

Words matter. Choose them well.

It’s hard to be mindful of the power of our words even in the best of circumstances, but it may be even more important now, especially when it comes to interacting with strangers. It may not seem like a big deal to say “Thank you” to the grocery store clerk, but they’re not robots. Acknowledge them.

Phone a friend.

It happens to me all the time. I have a friend who’s been on my mind and I really want to call them, but every time I think about it, it’s too late, I’m busy, or it’s not the perfect time. When I finally stop putting it off and just make the call already, I’m always glad I did.

Encourage a fellow human.

You may not have many chances to encourage people in the current situation, but don’t be afraid to offer a kind socially distanced gesture of encouragement, like phoning a friend or neighbor, supporting a local eatery, or leaving a positive comment about a service you’re received.

Or go above and beyond to show you care.

One of my family members recently put care packages together for neighbors who live alone. All women. She delivered the packages the day before Mother’s Day with a note saying, We’ve been thinking about you. The gesture surprised them and brought a few to tears of joy.

What a brilliant way to show people they are loved!

The world could use more random acts of kindness right now. Need some ideas? Check out the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation website.

Be mindful of your actions and how they may be perceived.

A friend of mine recently made a run to a grocery store and even though her city leaders strongly encourage people to wear masks, she noticed half the crowd wasn’t. She didn’t feel safe being in that environment.

And when people don’t respect the call for social distancing, it makes me wonder, Do they just not care?

Still, what other people do and say is out of your control. The best each of us can do is to speak and act in ways that reflect our own “personal policy.”

Our individual policies in action

If you’ve ever worked for a company you love, their policies probably made you feel valued, like you mattered. They cared about whether you were there or not.

That’s highly motivating for people. And wouldn’t that be what you want your “personal policy” to reflect?

We can do that every day by acting in a manner that reflects a policy of caring and kindness.

That was true before COVID-19 and will be true when COVID-19 is history. But now it seems even more important to take every opportunity to lift people up even in the small ways you can.

For more about the power of words, read Words Have Power on the blog.

I’d love to hear from you. What are you seeing and feeling as communities open back up?

Photo by Ruby Montalvo published on rubymontalvo.com

How COVID-19 went from global to personal

When news of COVID-19 in China broke, I sympathized. It sounded like a horrible outbreak with so many people sick and dying.

But in my mind, the problem was “over there,” not close to me or anyone I know.

Then news broke about COVID-19 cases exploding in Italy. Seemingly overnight, people in a certain region were forced to quarantine.

Wait. What?

My daughter lives about a 45-minute drive from Venice with her Air Force husband. From my home in Texas, I heard the outbreak affected Northern Italy, but where exactly?

News reports said cases were in the Lombardy Region, including the city of Milan.

Was that close to where my daughter lives?

Would it stay contained in that region?

She had been looking forward to relatives visiting. For months, my sister and her family had planned their visit to Italy, securing passports, watching airfare for the right time to buy, planning all they would see, The Vatican, The Colisseum, The Statue of David, etc. 

I scoured the news multiple times a day for updates, for news of regions affected by lockdowns and number of cases being reported.

Of course, there was nothing I could do. Nothing anyone could do but wait and watch to see what would happen.

Life went on as normal with trains still running, businesses still open except in the Lombardy Region.

But it quickly spread. Major events in Venice, like Carnival, were cut short or cancelled.

That was too close, but I still held my breath hoping naively that her region would not be affected.

Then, February 25, all that wishful thinking came to a definite end.

And just like that….

Travel had not been restricted at that point (borders were open) and my daughter had taken a short trip to Amsterdam with friends.

Upon their arrival in Venice, they were greeted at the airport by officials checking temperatures of arriving travelers. They knew the home they were returning to was not the one they left just days before. 

All schools were to be closed the next day, February 26, but official lockdown still did not yet affect her town.

A few days later, she was at the town square enjoying an afternoon coffee with friends, who sat a safe social distance away. Then the police arrived and alerted the shop owner that were to officially closed. All patrons were sent home. 

They were in official lockdown, which meant no one could leave their own municipality and social gatherings were no longer allowed. Essential trips only, like for food or doctor appointments were allowed. 

What made this COVID-19/Quarantine situation all the more concerning was that her husband, my son-in-law, was deployed. She was alone at her home with her dog, Buster, and thank God for him.

Deadly virus, drastic measures

More people started dying from Coronavirus and the Italian government clamped down the restrictions. Borders were closed, essential travel only, be prepared to show documents.

I’m not sure how I would have managed in that situation, but I think she’s managed incredibly well.

Of course, a few short weeks later, cities all across the US would experience a similar outcome.

COVID-19 started affecting people in the US in early to mid-March, but for me, it started in February when it hit Italy.

After only three weeks of my city’s “Stay at home” order, I was feeling restless and asked my daughter if she had any advice about how to help others get through these strange times.

She offered these bits of wisdom:

  • This (COVID-19) is serious. People should take precautions now, because it spreads. And even when people knew it was spreading, they were still going on cruises and acting like nothing was happening.
  • As bad as it sucks to be locked down in your house, it’s what needs to be done. And better sooner than later.
  • Stay home. Listen to local officials. Keep your social distance. The sooner you just do it, the sooner you’ll be able to get back to life. 
  • Stay connected through chat groups, zoom calls. 
  • Some days you might be super-productive and some days you might just want to lie on the couch and do nothing. You gotta be okay with that. 
  • It’s better to stick to a routine. Get up, get dressed, let the dog out, make coffee. Just do the normal things you always do when you’re at home.

I agree with my daughter’s way of thinking and I understand that not everyone does. Official mandates have caused deep financial hardship for many people.

When will we be able to “get back to normal”? And what will “normal” look like?

Hopefully we’ll discover the answers to those questions in good health and better understanding.

For more insight into Quarantine in Italy, see Reporter’s Notebook: What Life Is Like In Rome Under Coronavirus Lockdown

Read more about my 2018 trip of a lifetime to Italy at Waiting for “someday” puts dreams out of reach, Riposo (a time for afternoon rest) is a serious Italian tradition, and Wayside altars in Italy

crochet lessons

Crochet and life lessons reinforced

I decided to learn to crochet mostly because I liked the idea of making stuff people could wear. I had no idea learning to crochet would reinforce many life lessons for me.

My new hobby came about after I’d finished a few needlepoint projects and wanted to try something different. How hard can it be? I thought.

My mom, who sews beautifully and used to crochet, gave me a quick lesson on how to start a chain using just my fingers because neither of us had a hook.

I went to a yarn store by my house where the sales clerk recommended a bamboo hook and offered a bit of yarn remnants (project leftovers). “You’ll want to get a light colored one so you can see what you’re doing,” she advised.

I decided on a small pastel pink yarn that looked like it could have been used to make a blanket for a baby girl.

With yarn and hook in hand and just enough information to wade into the crochet ocean, I was on my way. 

My fingers cramped as they adjusted to the new movements and I stitched long chains, then pulled them out and chained them again. I was finally ready to try a turn, means hooking the yarn to the original chain and making another row.

My fingers resisted moving as instructed on the Youtube videos. I strangled that first ball of pink yarn into submission. I didn’t realize it at the time, but my stitches were so tight I nearly had them in a chokehold. 

My practice swatches looked like the equivalent of writing with the non-dominant hand. You could tell what it was, kind of, but pretty shabby.

But I kept at it. 

That pink yarn was starting to look a little frayed, so I ventured into a sewing and craft store for more. In the yarn aisle stocked with hundreds of skeins of various brands, colors, material, I had no idea what I wanted or what was best for a beginner to use. 

I met a woman there in the aisle who said she was new to crocheting too. 

She had already made a bag and lots of blankets. And she taught herself. 

I was impressed and envious. 

I felt such a long way from where she was. She said she’d only been at it a few months. I’d been at it a few weeks and my stuff was all crap. 

“You’ll get it,” she encouraged. “It takes practice.”

While watching TV and listening to audiobooks, I practiced my basic single crochet stitch and figured I’d graduate to more complex stitches later. 

I made a coaster with bright-yellow yarn I’d forgotten I had. 

The coaster turned out in more of a rhombus shape not square (due to not counting and turning correctly) and rolled up on the ends (due to stranglehold stitches).

But it was done. 

Curled crocheted coaster (left) and Curled multi-colored, crocheted pot holder (right).

Next project

I thought I was ready to move on to something bigger and decided to make a scarf.

There were tons of instructional YouTube videos, but the problem with those is that experts do them and make everything look so easy. I had to constantly rewind, watch, rewind again, stitch, undo the stitch, watch again, etc. 

That period of learning tested my patience and I’m not sure what kept me going but I did. 

The scarf turned out wearable and functional, not beautiful. The edges were somewhat curvy, not clean, so I decided to put a border on it. Unfortunately, my stitches are so tight I actually broke my bamboo crochet hook trying to add the border. So I added fringe.

Again, not beautiful, but it’s done. 

Since that first project, I have made a blanket for each of my grandkids, several scarves, and a potholder. 

I have a yarn stash like any respectable crocheter and have attempted more complex projects, but find crochet patterns overwhelming. 

I know the basics and enjoy my new hobby. 

It occurred to me recently that I’ve learned a lot from it. Crochet life lessons, so to speak. These are things I know and learning to crochet has reminded me. 

Strive for progress, not perfection. 

I watched Youtube videos following every step as meticulously as I could. My practice swatches never turned out like theirs. So frustrating! Theirs were perfect. Mine weren’t even close to perfect and hardly resembled theirs. 

And while that was frustrating, I had to be okay with my imperfect product because that’s where I was. I had to give myself a chance to get better. 

Needing my swatches to be perfect would have stopped me right at the beginning.

Crochet would have been added to the list of things I always wanted to do but never got the hang of.

Better to strive for progress over perfection.

Comparing myself to others is unproductive. 

That fellow beginning crocheter who said it took her a few months to teach herself and had already made a bag impressed me. Maybe I was a slow learner or not cut out to create anything. I always figured I didn’t have the “creative gene” that runs in my family.

My mom sews beautifully and my sister is an expert at creating beautiful work from garage sale, thrift store, or trash pile odds and ends. 

I never had much success in that area. 

But that doesn’t mean I can’t do it. With a little instruction and A LOT of patience, I can. I may never be an expert crocheter and I’m certainly not a prodigy, like this impressive young man, Jonah

And that’s okay. I’d like to get better and I’ve already made huge improvements since that very first wonky swatch.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to start over. 

Crochet patterns overwhelm me, but I found an infinity scarf pattern that seemed pretty simple. It used simple stitches and then connected each round at a starting point. It seemed so simple!

I was using a super soft velvet yarn and the pattern sample was luxurious and I was so excited to make it. And then, about four loops in, I looked at it. Closely. And realized somehow, some way, the yarn had twisted. 

It would never fall right. And no matter how much I wished it hadn’t happened, or wished I would have checked it sooner, there was no salvaging it. It would not work out as it was. If I wanted to make the scarf, I had to completely undo it and start over. 

As upsetting as that was, I had to cut my loss of time and energy and be grateful I hadn’t gone further before realizing my error. 

Still, it bothered me that I didn’t know where I’d gone wrong. It all seemed to be going smoothly! I regretted my error, but felt lucky that I could easily pull the yarn and undo every stitch until it’s just a long string of yarn. 

Of course life isn’t that simple, but sometimes we hang on to things that just aren’t going to work out no matter how much you try to force it. Starting over seems impossible and sometimes it may be, but more often it’s the heavy feeling of regret at being left with just a long, frazzled string of yarn instead of the hope of having something amazing. 

I eventually had to abandon the pattern. Could not get the yarn to stop twisting.

Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it. 

So I’ve been doing this for a few months and you’d think I’d be able to crochet square blankets by now, but nope. I got so frustrated with myself when I was halfway through a recent project and realized it was taking on a trapezoid shape when it should have been a square. 

(I resist counting my stitches 😐 )

For a second, I thought. That’s it. I’m terrible at this. But I know that I’m terrible at counting my stitches. It’s math. I don’t like math.

So how do you get better at counting stitches if you hate to count your stitches? You decide to just do it and then practice doing it and figure out a way to count without it crushing your crochet spirit. 

Because if you want to make square blankets, you have to count your stitches. (I tell myself this but at the back of my mind I wonder if there’s another way!)

To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher.

I attempted enough times to know that if I want to explore more complex projects and be able to follow a pattern, I’m going to need instruction. 

My instructor will need to be VERY patient, knowledgeable, and kind. She’ll be able to see what I’m doing, point out where I’m going wrong, and steer me in the right direction. Also, give me incremental goals and skills to develop. My imaginary crochet coach is amazing. 

When you think about it, having a coach makes sense. Every professional basketball team has a shooting coach, professional football teams have a kicking coach, pro golfers have a coach. 

Don’t go it alone

I’ve found a crochet meet up of crocheters and knitters who meet once a week to chat and crochet and knit. I’ve only made the meet up a few times, but they’re always welcoming and helpful. They’re at all different levels, but the majority are very knowledgeable and I would say, expert. The differences in yarn materials, brands, stitches, strategies, etc. 

We talk about books, movies, our families. And we have crochet/knitting in common. 

Crochet and life lessons

I like to crochet, but never thought venturing into this new hobby would reinforce life lessons that have been reinforced again and again over the years.

Is crochet life?

Not exactly.

But for me, it’s like another branch of learning. That I get to create something to keep my neck warm in winter is a bonus.

So when you feel discouraged by some new challenge, remember these things:

  • Strive for progress, not perfection
  • Comparing yourself to others in unproductive
  • Sometimes the best thing to do is start over
  • Be okay with being a beginner and keep at it
  • To get to the next level, you may need a coach or teacher
  • Don’t go it alone

Have you picked up and hobbies recently? What have you learned? I’d love to hear from you.

For more on being a beginner, read Embrace the beginner’s mindset on the blog.

goals

What you can do now to help you reach your goals

You know things don’t happen by themselves, that your plans, dreams, aspirations, bucket list items, things you’ve always wanted to do…don’t just happen by themselves. 

Action is required. Your action. 

At times of uncertainty, goals may be the furthest thing from your mind.

Like now, when the world seems at a standstill and COVID-19 is affecting communities, families, and individuals directly, it’s easy to think, what I want is not important right now. 

Maybe your dreams and aspirations aren’t a matter of life and death, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. 

And if you take action now, you’ll be in a better position to reach your goals when the Coronavirus crisis is history.

Here are some things you can do now:

Set your goals. 

Time goes and goes. Days turn to weeks and weeks to months and months to years…you get the idea.

If there’s something you’ve always wanted to do but have never developed a plan for how to accomplish it, there’s a good chance it’s a wish and not a goal.

What makes it a goal?

  • First, believe you can do it, even if it seems like it could never happen.
  • Then accept the vulnerability that comes with that big goal.
  • Next, and possibly most important, you must devise a plan to make it happen. 

If you take those first steps toward your goals, you’re on your way. If not, it may be just a wish.

Goal or Wish?

I’ll give you an example of something I used to want to do, but only ever wished it, like a dream, and never made it a goal. 

I used to, in a Walter Mitty kind of way, want to be a backup singer. I dreamed of doing the moves old school, like the Pips did for Gladys Knight. 

Never did it. Probably never will, but OMG that would have been amazing.

Either because I didn’t think I could, didn’t know how I would, or just didn’t have the courage to make it real, without a plan to make it happen, being a backup singer stayed a wish for me, not a goal. 

Now, the only backup singing gigs I have are in my mind as I dance and sing in my living room or on the occasional Karaoke night : ) 

Don’t let this be you!

Set your goals. It’s okay if they seem slightly out of reach, maybe even crazy and unattainable.

Then come up with a plan to make them happen.

If you’re not sure exactly what goals you want to set for yourself, you’re first step may be to dig deep and explore some ideas about what you’d like to do.

And try not to look at it as a test. There are no right or wrong answers and it’s okay if you start something and then find it’s not what you thought it would be. You’ve learned something in the process.

Have a plan to work toward your goals. 

Don’t keep them all in your head. Write them down, post them someplace, come up with a plan to meet them, jot down incremental goals in your calendar.

Find whatever works to help you keep them at the forefront of your mind. Break the steps into small, attainable goals to keep you from being overwhelmed and giving up before you start. 

Do what you can. 

These days of social distancing and sheltering in place are not normal. You may not be able to do everything you normally would, but you can still do a lot.

Reach out to people who you trust and who may be able to help or advise you about how to move forward. You may find there’s a lot that’s out of your control, but even if you can’t do everything you’re used to doing, there’s still a lot you can do. 

Approach with enthusiasm.

Winston Churchill once said, “Success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.” 

Think about it. Why would you want to work toward something you’re not excited about? When I was working on my first book, I had days when I felt not even an ounce of enthusiasm about what I was doing. Those were long and dark days, perfect for giving up. 

What a different experience to approach with enthusiasm. I felt a greater sense of accomplishment when I met my daily goals, felt greater compassion toward myself and my work, knew I was in it for the long haul, and felt more determined to finish. 

Doing these things:

  • Setting goals
  • Developing a plan
  • Doing what you can
  • Approaching with enthusiasm

are simple first steps you can take now to help you build momentum toward reaching your goals.

I don’t believe it’s End of Days. We’ll get through this uncertain time, but it’s a good reminder that none of us has forever to do what we always thought we would do.

Action is required. Do what you can now to move you closer to your goals.

Need some inspiration to get started on setting your goals? Check out If not now, when? on the blog.

Feeling trapped

What you can do to help stop Coronavirus spread

I’ve had Coronavirus on the brain for a while. Ever since the news of the virus hitting Northern Italy hard, I scour the news sources, sometimes bleary-eyed for some new bit of informtion.

By now we all know we should:

  • Practice social distancing
  • Not gather in large groups
  • Wash hands with soap and water. If not available, use hand sanitizer.
  • Cough and sneeze in your elbow or a tissue.

With that in mind, the news is bleak.

But here are a few stories that have stayed with me and are a great reminder about what we’re dealing with.

The first is from Dr. Emily Landon from the University of Chicago Medicine.

Her message hits to the heart of our current situation and the frustrating reality that the best most of us can do is to do nothing.

She says healthcare workers around the world are doing their part to help us through the pandemic. Now, we need to do our part.

If you haven’t seen it, you can watch Dr. Landon’s March 21 speech or read the transcript at:

Chicago’s Doctor’s Blunt Speech About COVID-19 Hits Home

And this message from Craig Spencer, MD in New York who (via Twitter) implores people to stay home. He says, “You might hear people say it isn’t bad. It is….I survivied Ebola. I fear COVID-19.”

Read the full account at Doctor Gives Harrowing Account of Life on the Frontline for Clinicians Treating COVID-19 in New York

Get the facts

For information about COVID-19, what it is, and how to protect you and your family go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) website at Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19)

Unfortunately, there’s not a lot you can do to help this crisis pass any faster except follow your state and local guidelines.

And be patient.

Take advantage of the downtime to:

Exercise.

Even if it’s a walk around the block, a short workout, or a dance party in your living room.

Get stuff done.

Pick up those projects you’ve been putting off. It can be hard to get motivated, but start small and keep at it. Little by little you can do a lot.

Get outside.

It’s a sunny 88 degrees as I write this. Outside in the shade would be good. And even when outdoors, keep your recommended 6-feet social distance.

Waste nothing.

Freeze food before it goes bad. Be creative with your meals.

Meet virtually.

We’ve resorted to live-video, group workouts and virtual coffee meetings using What’s App. It’s not the same as being there, but it’s better than going it alone.

Donate time and/or money

If you have the time or money, check with your local Red Cross to find your local chapter about how you can help. They may even have ways to volunteer virtually.

As always, a little gratitude goes a long way.

Reach out to others if you need a word of encouragement, a videochat, a roll of toilet paper, an egg…whatever.

Wishing you patience and health through this crisis.

Need some motivation to kick start your new project? Read What are you waiting for? on the blog.

axe throw

Deep thought for the day: Who are you?

My family and I were big fans of The Walking Dead a few years ago. It sparked some interesting discussion around what we would do in the unlikely event of a zombie apocalypse.

My son and husband went through a bow and arrow phase, then an axe-throwing phase.

It’s for fun and recreation, of course, but we also joked about it being great training for the Zombie Apolalypse.

We’d imagine banding together as a family to fight off zombies in a Zombieland or Shaun of the Dead way, not in a Night of the Living Dead or Walking Dead way. The latter being way too terrifying.

It’s a joke we can run a long way with, for sure.

But we’re not bomb shelter, doomsday preppers kind of people. We don’t have a closet full of canned food or MRE’s (Meals Ready to Eat).

And although we kid about preparing for the Zombie Apolcalypse, it did raise some interesting discussions about what we would do in the event of an actual catastrophic event. 

COVID-19 pandemic is not the Zombie Apolalypse, but it has disrupted every aspect of our lives.

And it’s got me thinking about human nature and the way we humans act in times of uncertainty. 

The saying goes, We show our true selves in times of crisis. 

So the question is, who are you? (Matt Damon’s character asks the question in the movie Ford vs. Ferrari which I streamed this past weekend so I’ll just borrow it here. Great movie, BTW.)

Am I the type of person who’ll do anything for my family, including buying up all the toilet paper and clearing the shelves of hand sanitizer and masks so I can turn a profit on eBay?

Because I can make a nice profit and my family needs to live too. Supply and demand, baby. You need hand sanitizer, can’t find it, don’t mind spending $10 on something that costs me a dollar? Sold. 

Hey, extreme circumstances, y’know?

These are not normal times, for sure. And what can any of us do about it? We’re just trying to make it through.

Before I judge that guy, I can look at my own actions. Am I acting in a responsible and ethical way?

I’ve been looking for a dozen eggs for a while. Haven’t found any. But the terrible thing is, I have about a half dozen. Why am I looking for something I already have?

The current situation: Mark and I have what we need even though it may not be exactly what we want.

Plus, we’ve ordered plenty of takeout in an attempt to do what little we can to help our local businesses. And so we don’t have to cook.

Those are little things.

Some people are doing big things. Health care workers, public servants and non-profit staff and volunteers who care help people in the community are at the front lines of this thing. They may have to make tough choices that affect lives and livelihoods.

Not me. My job right now is to do what I can, like don’t panic buy, follow social-distancing guidelines, and stay home.

That sounds so much less bad-ass than fighting off zombies, but that’s where we are.

We show our true selves in times of crisis, or said another way, as you pass the days with the current COVID-19 reality, consider the question: Who are you?

Interestingly, this is not the first blogpost in which I reference zombies : ) For another, read Violence in a zombie world

Affirmations featured image

Use affirmations to shift your mindset

I’m trying to get in the daily habit of using the most uplifting affirmations I have in my arsenal.

Why? Because they’re amazing!

When I feel sad, frustrated, discouraged, angry, or doubtful about life and things, saying this one, simple statement (affirmation) helps to shift my mindset:

I am brilliant, bright, and beautiful.

What exactly is an affirmation and why would I use one?

An affirmation is a positive statement you can say mentally or out loud, a statement that says what you want or who you want to be. Using affirmations is a way of claiming that thing for yourself, of putting your desire out into the Universe.

Lots of self-help books recommend practicing affirmations as a way of maintaining a positive mindset.

Shift the focus

This favorite affirmation works like magic to help me shift the focus from self-doubt to positivity. 

It’s something I say to shift my mindset, to remind myself that I am brilliant, bright, and beautiful.

The thing about this affirmation is that I don’t feel vain or braggy when I say it because it’s really not about me. I didn’t make myself brilliant, bright, and beautiful.

Which leads me to another one of my favorites: I am a miracle of creation. The force that guides the stars guides me too. 

Whether you call the “force that guides the stars” God or the Universe or Mother Nature or whatever, the idea is that I (imperfect me) am an amazing part of creation, no less than the stars. 

And so are you.

You are brilliant, bright, and beautiful. 

Sounds simple. Does it work?

When I feel unmotivated and down on myself and like I have nothing to offer anyone and I’m a screw up and my work is of no significance and tons of other negative thoughts that knock me down, these affirmations help lift me up.

I challenge you to give it a try when you feel discouraged or frustrated.

Say it with conviction: I am brilliant, bright, and beautiful. Repeat as needed. Let the words sink in until you feel them to your bones.

If these affirmations don’t quite work for you, find another one you like.

Here are some ideas:

  • I have all I need to create the life I desire.
  • Love is the answer.
  • I choose the path of courage.
  • Today is what I have and I will make the most of it.
  • I let go of all I can’t control. Not my circus, not my monkeys.
  • One day at a time.

Affirmation practice

Find one that works for you and then practice it.

Say it every day, several times a day if you can.

But at the very least, when you need a mindset shift remember to affirm yourself.

Remember that you are brilliant, bright, and beautiful. You are a miracle of creation. 

Shine on!

Dolly Parton's America

Have you heard Dolly Parton’s America?

I’d heard about Dolly Parton’s America podcast, had seen it come up as one of the most popular podcasts on my phone (Applepodcasts).

Not sure why I passed it up at first. I like Dolly, but I’m not a huge Country Music fan. I only know her pop songs, like “9 to 5” and “I Will Always Love You.” I couldn’t see the point of the podcast.

But it kept coming up so I decided to give it a listen.

Just a few minutes into Episode #1, I was hooked. 

Dolly Parton’s America is a 9 Episode podcast that dives into Dolly Parton, the Unifier. 

She’s everywhere

The show came about when Had Abumrad, a journalist who grew up in Dolly’s home state of Tennessee, attended a Dolly Parton concert in New York city.

He had never given much thought to just how big Dolly was, never thought much about her presence.

Until the concert. He marveled at the wide range of people of all races, ages, nationalities, and income levels who love her. He wondered, How could this country singer from Tennessee bring all these people together? Could she be a Unifier even in the current climate of political polarization? 

He wanted to learn more. And, it turns out, he had an “in” to getting an interview with Dolly Parton. His dad knows her! (Seems odd, but the show covers the connection.)

He started with one interview which turned into the WNYC’s 9 episode podcast: Dolly Parton’s America.

I found the podcast interesting, funny, and entertaining. You don’t have to be a fan to get something out of it, but especially if you love Dolly, it’s a must listen.

Takeaways

Dolly Parton’s story is a rags (literally) to riches story, for sure. But she’s also super smart, talented, candid, and seems to genuinely care about people.  

My big takeaways and what I learned from Dolly Parton on this podcast: 

  • Work hard
  • Stay the course
  • Believe in yourself
  • Look for the good in people
  • Keep your sense of humor
  • If you’re going to be the butt of a joke, beat ’em to the punch
  • Know what you believe
  • Stand up for yourself

Ask me anything.

The conversations about her work, career, beliefs, and attitudes are entertaining and enlightening.

Here’s a list of the Episode titles and a little bit about what’s covered in each:

Episode 1: Sad Ass Song 

Covers her persona, her songwriting and music tradition, and the lasting themes in her music

Episode 2: I Will Always Leave You

She answers questions about her long career, how she had to stand up for herself, and how following her intuition made all the difference 

Episode 3: Tennessee Mountain Trance

We learn about Dolly’s roots and how her songs about home resonate with people on a larger scale

Episode 4: Neon Moss

Expands on the idea of home and the longing we sometimes feel for something long gone

Episode 5: Dollitics

How Dolly handles politics by not handling politics

Episode 6: The Only One For Me, Jolene

How many different ways can you interpret a song that seems to have an obvious message? If the song is “Jolene,” a whole bunch of ways.

Episode 7: Dolly Parton’s America

There is a class at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville called Dolly Parton’s America. This episode discusses America in the context of the South and Appalachia as it is explored in the class.

Episode 8: Dixie Disappearance

A “Dixie” controversy at Dollywood and the larger issue of addressing the injustices of the past and the symbols that commemorate them.

Episode 9: She’s Alive!

Dolly talks about religion, her faith, and her plans to have her music far outlive her. 

Also, 2 bonus episodes feature her music performed by other artists. 

For more information, click here to go to the Podcast webpage

Stay focused

4 Strategies to keep you focused and get stuff done

I’ve been struggling to stay focused lately, or more to the point, struggling to not want to be distracted when I have stuff to do.

Squirrel.

A couple of weeks ago I wrote about listening better. And, yeah, I’m working on it.

But focusing on being a better listener has made me realize my very self-sabatoging tendency to allow distractions to shift my focus.

I allow myself to be distracted by things, people, stuff, and, here’s the biggee, I tend to actually look for things to distract myself — stuff that sucks me in and keeps me from work/tasks/commitments that matter to me. 

Distractions abound. And when I’m bored, tired, out of my groove, or wanting to do anything other than what I’m doing, I look for a distraction. 

Squirrel.

Especially when the task is difficult, tedious, boring, or otherwise unappealing. That’s when I most want to look at/think about/read about something else, which keeps me from doing what’s most important to me.

Must stay focused, but….squirrel!

Recently, I’d been working on a blogpost when, for no good reason, I logged on to Facebook. I had no business there, no real purpose for going there other than to distract myself. All I wanted was a little diversion, just a quick glance at something else.

Well don’t you know, I got sucked into the Facebook vortex.

20 minutes later!…I finally pulled myself away and logged off.

And it isn’t just FB. I might pick up my phone to check the weather, but I end up reading news headlines and checking Instagram and maybe looking to see what’s showing at the movies. Or maybe I’ll just have some Valentines’ Day chocolate.

So, with a conservative estimate on a regular day, I can easily spend about an hour on stuff not in line with my priorities. 

7 hours a week. 30 hours a month. 360 hours a year. That’s 15 days. Of my life!

Time well-spent? 

Almost certainly not.

Someone once said: Time is our most valuable non-renewable resource. 

(I looked it up and according to Goodreads.com, it was Albert-Laszlo Barabasi in his book, Bursts: The Hidden Pattern Behind Everything We Do)

You are so right, Albert!

The clock is ticking, man.

And if time is my most valuable non-renewable resource then what am I doing wasting so much of it? 

I had to ask myself, how can I shift my mindset to help me stay focused on what I’m doing?

Here’s what I know: I get way more long-lasting satisfaction from completing something on my “To Do” list than from scanning news headlines, checking email, or mindless snacking. 

When I complete a task from my “To Do” list I know I’ve done what I set out to do and spent my nonrenewable resource on something that’s important to me.

And that sense of accomplishment has a snowball effect. It gives me momentum.

I’ve proven to myself that I can focus and accomplish what I set out to accomplish. (Honestly, even if it’s something as “boring” as doing the laundry. Not my favorite thing to do, but necessary, and now…done. Check.)

Here are a few strategies I’m using to combat my tendency to seek distractions to avoid important but difficult/boring/challenging/mundane tasks.

Have a plan

I work well with a “To Do” list and a calendar. On the calendar I mark my deadlines, some self-imposed and arbitrary, others imposed by others and firm, like April 15 tax filing deadline. 

By Sunday night, or at the latest Monday morning, I have a plan for my week. I list what I will work on every day. That’s my “To do” list. If for some reason I don’t get to something on my “To Do” list for that day, I push it back to the following day or earliest possible day. 

What works best for me is scheduling slightly more than I think I can do. And then I prioritize my list, taking into account any factors that may affect the schedule. 

I’ve been using this strategy for a while and I’m surprised how lost I am without a plan.

The other day I had nothing on my schedule except to spend the day with a relative. She got sick and had to cancel. I was left with my blank schedule board and I had to think for a few minutes about how to best regroup.

If you want to stay more focused, try writing a daily plan.

Be flexible

Things are going to come up, which is all the more reason to seize the day when you have the chance.

When you do what’s important instead of squandering your life away on stupid stuff that doesn’t matter in the big scheme of things, you’re better prepared for the unexpected.

It’s like money in the bank for a rainy day.

Set a timer

Depending on your work environment and level of potential distractions, I’ve found it very helpful to give myself a set amount of time to work on something on my list. 

Let’s say, for example, I have an idea for a blogpost. I know what I want to say and I’m ready to write. I set my timer for 30 minutes. 

Begin.

Everything’s great, I’m rolling along, but then I hit a snag. I get into the weeds and start questioning myself, doubting the validity of my message, and dozens of other things that sidetrack me. 

That’s when I’m most likely to start looking for something else to do or think about. 

But if I’ve set my timer, I’ve committed to write until my timer goes off. I know I can stay focused and write for 30 minutes, so I keep going.

Often, pushing through that yuck phase gets me back on track so when my timer goes off, I find I can go another 30 minutes. 

If 30 minutes seems too long, start with 10 or 20 minutes until you build your stamina, your “stay focused” muscle.

Set your priorities and purpose

When I worked as an elementary school librarian, I had so much stuff to do every day. Inventory, shelving books, ordering books, researching books to order, teaching classes, etc, in addition to the incidental interruptions like fire drills, staff meetings in the library, etc. There was no way I could do everything I had to do. 

So I had to prioritize. I gave myself deadlines, did what I could, made daily lists, and tried to remember that, above all things, I was there for the students.

I tried very hard to keep my purpose in mind: Connect kids with books and foster a love of reading.

Every day was a challenge and I probably lost my cool a few times. (A few dozen times if you count lunch duty.) But I tried very hard to stay focused on what was most important.

Those strategies again

So when you want to stay focused and get stuff done

  • Have a plan
  • Be flexible
  • Set your timer
  • Set your priorities and purpose 

We can do more than we think we can, but only if we stay focused on the tasks at hand, set our priorities, and treat time as our most valuable nonrenewable resource.

Can you relate? Do you put off tasks you’ll know you’ll eventually have to do? Do you leave work that really matters to you for stuff that doesn’t matter to you much at all? What strategies do you use to get past it? 

Movie theater Photo courtesy of pixabay.com published on strong-woman.com

4 Great movies from 2019 you might have missed

From the movie recommendation files, here are 4 great movies you might have missed from 2019.

Brittany Runs a Marathon

I had no idea what to expect from this movie. Had seen the previews and it looked like a sweet film about a young woman named Briattany who—guess what—runs a marathon. 

What I hadn’t expected was what made the movie so endearing to me.

Brittany’s decision to run a marathon puts her on a journey of self-discovery that force her to face some longstanding limiting beliefs about herself (like body image and trust issues) and how deeply those beliefs are ingrained in her.

Still, Brittany is all in and committed to go from couch potato to marathon finisher.

But, as in life, complications ensue and that’s when she’s faced with her most difficult challenge of accepting that she is worthy of love and acceptance. 

Brittany’s struggles were so relatable. I found myself totally invested in her success and wanted to cheer her on to the finish line.

For more information: Brittany Runs a Marathon

Yesterday

What would happen if there were a worldwide blackout and somehow The Beatles and all their music were wiped out of existence and memory. Like John, Paul, George, and Ringo weren’t a thing. What if no one had heard of them, except for one guy?

That’s what the premise of Yesterday.

The guy who, by some strange and magical force, knows who they are and knows their music is a struggling musician himself. Crazy things start happening when he starts playing all The Beatles music as his own. His career takes off.

Suddenly, everything is awesome! He’s a global sensation. More popular than he ever imagined.

But his new-found fame turns his world upside-down. He knows he must examine his own values, to decide for himself what makes a life worth living at the end of the long and winding road. 

The premise of Yesterday is completely implausible and will not stand up to the scrutiny of examination (how could he be the only one who remembers?) but if you can accept the story as fiction and just go with it, you may find the ride as wonderful as I did.

Movie page: Yesterday

The River and the Wall

There are so many things I loved about this movie that chronicles the 1200-mile trek along the Texas-Mexico border from El Paso to the Golf of Mexico.

The River and the Wall captures the breathtakingly beautiful, rugged wildlife and scenery of the area. That, alone, makes the movie worth watching.

If you have a chance to see it on a big screen, I highly recommend it. The open spaces are breathtaking and I felt a deep sense of protectiveness for the land and a deep sense of our connectedness.

For me, it complicated the whole issue of border security and immigration. And that’s one of the things that makes the movie outstanding. It takes this simple idea of a river and a wall and shows you how it’s not all that simple.

You have this big issue of immigration and protecting US borders and those are important.

But then you look at the people affected by a wall and the stories about how it will change people’s lives and their livelihood, and about birds and animals don’t know anything about treaties and undocumented migration.

The issue seems way more nuanced.

The land was here thousands of years before we got here and will be here thousands of years after we’re gone. To build a wall feels like the most excessive, ridiculous way to solve the problem. It’s like performing surgery with a sledgehammer. An expensive sledgehammer.

Movie website: theriverandthewall.com

A Beautiful Day in the Neighborhood

When I first saw that Tom Hanks was playing Mr. Rogers, I thought, Tom Hanks can’t possibly pull it off. 

Well, I was wrong. He pulls it off beautifully. But what surprised me more was the way the story came about and how the movie wasn’t really about Mr. Rogers. 

The film is based on a true story about a reporter who gets an assignment to write about Mr. Rogers. He’s not a fan and tries to get out of it, but he can’t so he approaches the whole thing with a “let’s get this over with” attitude. 

The movie is about what how that assignment changes everything for him. So it’s about Mr. Rogers but not a biopic.

This was one of those movies that when it ended, I thought, Omg. Everyone should see this movie.

The message of love and compassion and forgiveness and the way we’re all connected and capable of building each other up is something we need so badly right now.

One line that I think about often is when the reporter meets Mrs. Rogers and asks, “What does it feel like to be married to a saint.” Her reaction is a kicker. She says she doesn’t like when people say that because it makes it seem like what he does is unattainable. But it’s not. He works at it just like we can all work at it. 

I loved Mr. Rogers (the real Mr. Rogers) and didn’t expect to love this movie, but I found it uplifting and beautiful and powerful. A must see.

Official website: abeautifulday.movie

What do they have in common?

I found myself wondering what theme or message ties these together and resonates with my own writing?

You definitely will see the character arc, but the big message is how we can build up or break down. That our actions, beliefs impact us, yes, but also the people around us and maybe people we’ll never meet, that we create a ripple effect in the world. We’re connected and our actions (or inactions) affect others.

We each have our own stories to tell. And they may not make headlines or create a buzz, but that doesn’t mean they’re not important. You never know who you’re inspiring with your actions.

In case you missed my recent post about going to the movies, check it out here.